Oz prequel not so great
S James Franco’s fraudulent wizard points out in Oz the Great and Powerful: ‘‘I’m just not the man you wanted me to be.’’
By this point in Disney’s longthreatened, $200 million prequel to you-know-what, it’s clear Franco is as miscast here as he was as an Oscar host.
Director Sam Raimi’s dull, kitschy and overlong patchwork is sadly an epic fail, despite the presence of Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as a trio of witches.
Unlike Disney’s 1985 flop sequel Return to Oz, this prequel invites invidious comparisons to the beloved 1939 classic.
It opens in a black-and-white Kansas where seedy circus illusionist Oscar Diggs (Franco) learns his old flame (Williams) is going to marry a man named Gale.
That’s the closest the film comes to even indirectly referencing the beloved Dorothy Gale, though the thin script – by Mitchell Kapner ( The Whole Nine Yards) and playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (animated Wizard knockoff Robots) – sends Oscar (stage name Oz) on a suspiciously similar journey.
When the womanising Oscar seeks to escape an angry strongman in a balloon, a tornado blows him off course into Oz. There, he first encounters Theodora (Kunis), a witch who mistakes him for the wizard prophesied by the murdered king.
She takes Oscar to the Emerald City, where her older sister and royal adviser Evanora (Weisz) tells him the throne and untold wealth is his – all Oscar has to is kill a third witch, their sworn enemy Glinda (Williams again).
It’s not exactly hard to figure out who’s good and who’s bad here or who will end up becoming the Wicked Witch of the West (called the Wicked Witch of the South for legal reasons) – even if you haven’t seen the spoiler-filled trailers or merchandise.
A much, much bigger problem is that it’s hard to care what happens to the cowardly, greedy Oscar and his cohorts, an annoying flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a boring China doll (Joey King).
Eventually, Oscar leads a siege of Emerald City that seems to go on longer than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
It’s all impersonally directed by Raimi ( SpiderMan trilogy), who resorts to special effects – some admittedly impressive – to disguise the absence of the emotional resonance and coherent storytelling that made The Wizard of Oz so memorable.
Weisz gives the film’s only good performance as the scheming, English-accented Evanora. Williams does what she can as the beautiful but sickeningly sweet Glinda but Kunis fares worst as misguided Theodora, done in by a poor script and some truly unfortunate makeup and prosthetic breasts.
Oz the Great and Powerful will likely appeal mostly to kids who have had minimal exposure to The Wizard of Oz – though parents should be warned there are scary attacks by fanged flying baboons that helped earn the film its PG rating.
Mila Kunis and James Franco in